B.C.’s lowest paid workers will get a 50-cent raise next month as the NDP government takes its first steps toward a promised $15 minimum wage.
The new NDP administration confirmed Tuesday it will honour the B.C. Liberals’ commitment to increase the wage to $11.35 an hour on Sept. 15.
Labour Minister Harry Bains described the raise as a “stepping stone” toward fulfilling the NDP’s campaign pledge of a $15 minimum wage by 2021.
“We have just four years to meet that $15 mandate and we will do it by making incremental and predictable increases starting with today’s announcement,” he said.
“We recognize the need for a gradual, phased-in strategy for increasing minimum wages — a timeline that allows employers to plan, budget and adopt their payroll.”
Bains said the NDP government intends to create a fair wages commission to determine the path forward, and will offer more details on that in the coming weeks.
The NDP government in Alberta has committed to establishing a $15 wage by October 2018, while the Ontario Liberal government intends to reach $15 by Jan. 1, 2019.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business urged the B.C. government to avoid the “reckless” approaches taken by Alberta and Ontario.
“We would certainly recommend a more thoughtful, reasonable approach, and perhaps even stretching out that transition timeframe into six years rather than four,” said Richard Truscott, vice-president for B.C. and Alberta.
He argued that a rapid rise in the minimum wage will harm small business with thin profit margins. “For them to make the necessary adjustments to still remain profitable and, hopefully, still pay themselves something of a return, that’s a big challenge.”
The B.C. Federation of Labour said it recognizes the need for a phased-in approach.
“We understand that,” said president Irene Lanzinger. “But we left it too low for too long, that’s the problem.”
The former B.C. Liberal government froze the minimum wage at $8 from 2001 to 2011, before announcing a series of increases that eventually raised it to $10.85 — third lowest in the country.
Lanzinger argued that raising the minimum wage will be good for the economy. “For the people making between $11.35 and $15 an hour, they’re not going to Europe for holidays, they’re not opening Swiss bank accounts. They’re spending that additional money in the community.”
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce said Tuesday that it’s waiting to hear more about the NDP’s plans for a fair wages commission.
“Most of our members at the chamber are all small businesses, so it’s very important that [government] actually take a good look, talk to the small businesses and work with them,” said chairman Al Hasham.
“Anytime there’s an increase, it has a real effect and a direct effect on small businesses and their bottom line. As long as the increases are tied to the Consumer Price Index, it gives the small business greater certainty so that they can plan ahead.”
The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association said it, too, hopes to be part of the new commission and help find a “balanced approach” to raising the minimum wage.
“We understand it’s going to go up,” said president Ian Tostenson. “We just have to do this in a way that adds value to the economy.”
Tostenson expressed concern that raising the wage too quickly would force businesses to shut down or lay off staff. “Business only has a certain amount they can spend on labour and food in our case, so they’ll have to minimize the cost,” he said.
The Sept. 15 increase will move B.C.’s minimum wage from the seventh to third highest in the country behind Alberta and Ontario.
The wage for liquor servers also will increase by 50 cents to $10.10 an hour, while daily rates for live-in home support workers, monthly rates for resident caretakers and piece rates for farm workers will rise in proportion to the 4.6 per cent increase in the minimum wage, the government said.